What is the worst thing about being a female student of Dhaka University? One can hardly deny that it is their insecurity on the campus.
“One evening, I was going to my dormitory. As I walked to the dorm, I could sense a man following me. At one stage, he actually overtook me and turned towards me, blocking my path and staring at me nastily. I felt nauseous and started shouting. The nearby students approached and got me out of that situation,” said a female student of the university wishing not to be named.
This harrowing account of a female residential student's experience while living on the Dhaka University (DU) campus is far from unique, and many in fact experience far worse things. It's all part of life on a more-or-less open campus in the middle of a busy metropolis where crime and violence are rampant.
But isn't it the responsibility of DU authorities to do everything they can to provide these students with a more agreeable and conducive environment for academic pursuits?
The same student whose account we started with also says: "In our campus, we don't feel safe. There’re too many outsiders, vagabonds, drug addicts, beggars, muggers and floating people causing all sorts of difficulties and distractions."
For the reasons of safety, she prefers not to give her identity.
But many students, some under their own names and identities, share similar experiences in multiple Facebook groups run by the students. Some of them even complain about being hijacked.
Nasir Uddin Prince, Master’s student of Television, Film and Photography, was a victim of a hijacking on the campus a few days back. He is also General Secretary of the Socialist Students Front’s central committee. The hijacker took away his camera, lens, battery, charger and some important documents.
After so many incidents, DU students are now demanding a collective campaign to drive out vagabonds, drug addicts, beggars, muggers and floating people from campus, and to restrict the movement of outsiders and heavy vehicles on the campus grounds. Though the authorities did not take any steps at first, some students started working spontaneously to this end. They have driven out vagabonds from the campus and forced many heavy vehicles to redirect.
After a while, the DU authorities seemed to come to their senses and started working for a secure campus. Recently, the university authorities urged outsiders not to stay on the campus without any necessity, to ensure the safety of students.
They have also been conducting drives for the last few days to eject outsiders with the help of law enforcement agencies.
All the makeshift shops in front of the Suhrawardy Udyan gate inside the campus were removed during a drive on November 16.
Julius Caesar Talukdar, founder of Dhaka University Nirapotta Moncha, an organisation that works for the safety of DU students and a safer campus, told UNB: "The university authorities can take steps to control traffic jams, muggings, drug peddling in the campus area. Setting up check posts at every entrance point of the campus (including Shahbagh, Doyel Chattar, Nilkhet, and the Palashi intersection) will be very helpful for that."
Asked to comment, DU proctor AKM Golam Rabbani acknowledged that too many people were gathering on the DU campus, mostly having no business there. Although this only started happening 'recently' according to him.
"It harms the environment of an educational institution," lamented the proctor. "Our students were forced to take steps to defend themselves. Then we took the matter seriously and have already started ensuring a safe and education-friendly campus for the students."
Now even the state's law enforcers, in the form of DMP (Dhaka Metropolitan Police), are being reeled in to prevent heavy vehicles moving through the campus. Although the proctor was not too impressed with the police's ham-handed response, in which they passed the buck for preventing heavy vehicles plying the campus area to Dhaka Sarak Paribahan Malik Samity - an association of business owners in the transport sector.
"We’ve also eradicated the makeshift rickshaw stands from every entry point to the university," Proctor Golam Rabbani added, trying to assure they are taking the matter seriously.
Whether the measures taken are successful in solving the problem, only time will tell!